News analysis

Trump's Cabinet of 'greatest killers'

Team of billionaires and generals may lack common touch: Analysts

The media has called US President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet a club of generals and billionaires. Its wealthy members make it the richest Cabinet in history, reports say, and it also has two retired generals, with possibly two more waiting in the wings.

Observers have questioned if the super-rich can have empathy for the working and middle classes and if the dominance of generals means that traditional civilian control over the military might be ceded.

Mr Trump is unapologetic.

At a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Thursday, he called his team the "greatest killers you've ever seen".

He called his pick as secretary of defence, retired marine general James Mattis, the nearest the US has to World War II general George Patton. Mr Trump also has appointed retired army lieutenant-general Michael Flynn as national security adviser. Retired marine general John Kelly is reportedly likely to head the Department of Homeland Security; retired general David Petraeus is in the running for Secretary of State.

"We are now on the cusp of having former generals running defence policy at the Pentagon and national security policy in the White House," Mr Michael Kugelman, senior programme associate for South and South-east Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, told The Straits Times (ST).


GENERALS AND BILLIONAIRES: GEN (RET) JAMES MATTIS, Defence Secretary; LT-GEN (RET) MICHAEL FLYNN, National Security Adviser and MARINE GEN (RET) JOHN KELLY, Head of Homeland Security.

"This is quite possibly an unprecedented arrangement that will raise many questions about civil-military relations - in a country where civilian control over the military has long been sacrosanct."


GENERALS AND BILLIONAIRES: BETSY DEVOS, Education Secretary; WILBUR ROSS, Nominee for Commerce Secretary and STEVEN MNUCHIN Treasury Secretary

Mr Kugelman noted differences in views between Mr Trump and Gen Mattis, who would need a congressional waiver as he retired only recently from the military.

"Mattis, perhaps more than any other Cabinet secretary nominated by Trump to this point, takes a position at direct odds with that of Trump. While Trump wants to engage less in the world, Mattis complains that Barack Obama didn't engage enough," he said.

Gen Mattis also holds a different view of Russian President Vladimir Putin from Mr Trump.

"While Trump is a fan of Vladimir Putin, Mattis is clearly not. To be sure... the expectation is that Mattis' views would be subordinated to the will of the president. But the disconnect in foreign policy views between Trump and Mattis is nonetheless quite striking," he said.

Critics have also questioned the appointment of millionaires and billionaires by Mr Trump - himself a billionaire. These include Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose family is reportedly worth US$5.1 billion; Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose net worth is reported to be US$2.9 billion; and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive said to be worth at least US$46 million. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Todd Ricketts, son of a billionaire, is a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

The wealthy will also feature in a 16-person President's Strategic and Policy Forum, which will bring together CEOs and business leaders, announced last week.

The wealthy Cabinet line-up has drawn criticism and worry that they may lack empathy for poor working-class Americans, which would colour policy decisions.

Democratic Party senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren noted that Mr Mnuchin is another Wall Street insider. They said in a joint statement: "That is not the type of change that Donald Trump promised to bring to Washington."

Cleveland-based Amy Hanauer, executive director at Policy Matters Ohio, a non-partisan think-tank, told ST: "(Wilbur) Ross bought steel mills in Ohio and other Mid-West cities and pushed them to lay off workers. Mnuchin profited off Cleveland's and Youngstown's foreclosure crisis. To balance all the billionaires, he needs to add a union leader, a community organiser, and a housing advocate to his very unbalanced team.'' 

Even as Mr Trump chooses his Cabinet, former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is continuing her bid to force a recount in Pennsylvania, one of three battleground states won by Mr Trump, AFP reported.

She has changed tactics, though, with her party dropping a bid for the recount in a state court, citing difficulties raising a US$1 million bond demanded by the tribunal. It said it would instead press on in federal court and file a suit today.

Ms Stein also plans to have a rally today near Trump Tower in New York "vowing to fight tooth and nail to verify the accuracy, security and fairness of the vote".

Her efforts to raise funds for recounts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin have brought in nearly US$7 million so far, according to her website.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2016, with the headline 'Trump's Cabinet of 'greatest killers''. Print Edition | Subscribe